This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

9 + 12.


In my training to attain certification as an enneagram counselor, I have noticed what I perceive to be a hole or a gap in the system. The enneagram is a personality-typing tool in which a person is identified according to one of nine distinct personality types. (See www.enneagraminstitute.com.)

The types each have their own energy and are rooted in a particular personality distortion. Traditionally, and in the early pre-history of the system, these were related to the “deadly sins.” Each type is prone to one of these sins. I am a type five; my sin is avarice. I tend to collect, absorb, hoard, keep, gather, and store things, ideas, thoughts, feelings, ideas, information, etc.

Each type has nine levels of health, from a powerful and balanced level one, and descending through average levels and down into unhealthy and destructive levels. We move up and down this scale in the course of our lives, most of us usually staying near the center. But an important aspect of the enneagram system is encouraging this movement upward into healthier places.

The mystery for me has always been how this happens. In the workshops I have attended with Russ Hudson and Don Riso, it seems there is a gap here. Russ does a fantastic job of describing the types, especially as they disintegrate down the levels into unhealth. But how we move up the levels is less clear. He usually says, when he has described the pit of doom at the bottom of each type, “but it doesn’t have to go this way!” as he jumps to a talk about the positive energy represented at the top. Clearly, accessing this almost idealized state is part of how we move up the scale into health. However, how we accomplish this is not laid out in great specificity.

It is not the case that one may simply will to act differently, for, if this is possible at all, it is often shallow and unconvincing. A deeper transformation is required. If the path downward is mainly a product of our fear, it would follow that moving out of fear would be a significant element of moving upward. But once again, while this is somewhat helpful verbally, what I am seeking is more of an explicit action-plan to guide this movement.

I am wondering if a useful mechanism for this transformation isn’t use of the “12-steps” of spiritual growth articulated by Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12-steps were developed and are now mostly used by folks dealing with destructive chemical addictions. But the system was originally rooted in more basic and universal principles of spiritual growth, including those of Christianity.

To use the 12-steps in relation to the enneagram is to put in the place of the particular addiction the person’s fundamental fear. For instance, the first step is: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.” As a type-five, I would place avarice in the place of alcohol. I need to admit that I am powerless over my avarice. That is, I am subtly and powerfully controlled by this particular way of seeing and acting in the world. This is so ingrained into me that it has taken me over half a century to even recognize and name it correctly. Much of my life has been an attempt to manage or cope with the fundamental gravitational pull of what I now see as the avarice adhering to my type-five personality.

I intend to reflect further on how this works itself out in actually doing the rest of the 12-steps. It may be that for at least some of us, the 12-steps is a helpful tool in working with the 9 types of the enneagram.

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